Weddings in Indonesia seem to be a free-for-all, anyone and everyone and ESPECIALLY the local bule are invited. I have been to three weddings so far and all of them have come as surprises.
The first wedding I was invited to was the wedding of someone related to Sam’s school. Sam was invited and just as she was getting picked up, lo and behold, she comes back up the stairs of our kost and let’s me know that I have been invited too. And so, with no time to prepare and no knowledge of the couple, I threw on a kebaya dress that I got in Malaysia and struggled to do some matilampu makeup (aka makeup in the dark because there are always power outages).
It turned out that the wedding was held in the Manado Grand Palace and it was the fanciest thing I have ever stepped foot into. We walked into the ballroom laid out with dozens of tables covered in white cloth and cute centerpieces. The ceiling was draped with sheer fabric and little stands with soft light glowing from inside a cage of metal heart patterns lined the aisle. At the far end of the room a stage spanned from wall to wall. In the center was a small fancy setee—one I imagine would be found in portraits of old French royalty—flanked by two chairs on either side. On one end was a giant cake multiple feet high and on the other a large projector screen.
But the most noticeable thing was that the entire room was light with a soft day-glow pink. The pictures I’ve included contain no alterations or photoshop—that’s actually what the place looked like.
The ceremony wasn’t actually a ceremony, so I suppose this party was more like the reception. But it included:
- an excruciating long process of various people going to the mike to talk, presumably, about the couple
- a pair of enthusiastic MCs who I can only assume were also the hosts of some local game show by the way they introduced people and parts of the program
- a surprisingly long video of the couple’s actual wedding ceremony, the preparations for the wedding, and many glamour shots in bottle blue beaches and fields of tall grass using drone photography
- a fake cake (the whole thing is actually Styrofoam or something and they “cut” the cake solely for image purposes)
- and basically a non-stop photo-op
That last point was honestly the most surprising to me, because most of the entire event consisted of various groups of people going up to take photos with the couple and their parents. These groups were pre-arranged and called up—such as “everyone who works at ___ with so-and-so” or “all of the people who were with so-and-so at ___”. This was followed by a quickly devoured feast, which was then succeeded by everyone filing into a line in order to shake hands with everyone on the stage.
This was roughly the same way that the second wedding I attended went. Complete with surprise wedding!
This time Sam and I didn’t find out we were going to a wedding until we actually walked into the room (same place—Manado Grand Palace). My counterpart had invited us to a “party” and told us that a friend of hers would pick us up at the kost. So we were picked up, dressed for a casual party and were subsequently casually mortified that we had walked into a wedding. Luckily we had both dressed semi-nicely! Sam had almost worn jean shorts and I casual pants. You might think “hey that’s not THAT big of a deal, as long as you look kind of nice, right?” Think again. These weddings are FANCY AF. The women get their hair done and husbands and wives dress in matching elegant outfits. And the “bridesmaids” (more like ushers?) look like they’re straight out of a particularly fancy prom, complete with cute mini hats pinned to their hair and elaborate matching off-the-shoulder ball gowns.
The third wedding I went to was, in some ways, quite different. But there were still many elements that held true. The first one being that it was, once again, a surprise to me.
One time my counterpart had invited me to visit her Minahasan village. About 20 minutes after she picked me up she mentioned casually that there was going to be a wedding celebration. A wedding celebration?? I was not at ALL sartiorially prepared for a wedding celebration! But alas, that is the way it is. By sheer luck and my propensity for skirts and dresses, I looked semi-acceptable and maybe they all passed it off as “oh that’s just the bule”.
The wedding celebration was split into two parties—one thrown by the bride and one by the groom. One was held at night and the other at noon on a different day. The one at night was slightly similar to the ones I had gone to before. Namely many people went up to the mike and talked at length. AT LENGTH. My legs were itchy with restlessness by the time we got to eat. There was a small photo-op with my counterpart and her husband (they were related) but not much other than that and later people shook hands with the family.
The one during the day was possibly shorter. I say possibly because it was essentially the same thing in a different location but this time I had my Kindle and spent most of it reading. (For those of you who might be concerned that I was not fully immersing myself in the experience, I’ll just say that when I thought my counterpart was praying with the rest of the group I looked over and found she was really just playing one of those Candy Crush-type games. Meaning: even the family of the bride was getting bored).
The two main differences I found were:
- There was a lot more praying in the village. This involved sermons, prayer, and hymns. Though, I mean, I expected there to be a fair bit of praying at something as religious as a wedding. Manado (and Indonesia) is very very If they had to name the 3 most important parts of their identity, I would bet a lot of money that 99.9% would include religion. They pray at EVERY opportunity—at ceremonies, before class, after class, at weddings, at birthdays, before they eat. It’s honestly a little overwhelming, especially as someone who is not religious. Sam and I were invited to a birthday and at least half an hour was spent on prayer.But I am lucky one aspect here: my counterpart seems to be very aware that I am probably not interested in doing all of the prayer and religious ceremony. She always tells me I can sit when I stand with everyone else for the various standing prayers and (to my eternal gratitude particularly because I was feeling quite sick to my stomach that morning) when I was with her on one Sunday morning she did not invite me to go along with her to church.
I have had some people invite me to their churches and have had interesting conversations about religion here (in this anomaly of a city in Indonesia), but… I think that is a story for another time.
- THE MEATOH MY GOD THE MEAT. My counterpart likes to joke that “Manadonese are good eaters”. What she means is that they will eat everything. Any animal that has any substantial amount of meat on it is fair game for the Minahasans. When I got out of the car at my counterpart’s village I basically walked straight into meat central. The cool thing was seeing the whole family take part in making mammoth amounts of food. Everyone was helping out with chopping and skinning and cleaning and mixing and stuffing bits of meat and seasoning into large bamboo shafts for cooking in a fire.
It was mainly lots of pork (I saw a pig’s nose on the meat preparation table and bit back a gag) but I also saw lizard tails (monitor lizard, I think?) and a dish of rats. Most of these things I could stomach being around with my stomach turning only a little, but the coup de grace was when my counterpart said, “Would you like to see the dog?” Given the context of this paragraph, I’m sure you are all painfully aware of the implications of that but I had no such warning. Amidst all of the wedding and food preparation I was not thinking particularly about meat when she said this. I was confused because there were dogs literally everywhere (EVERYWHERE) so seeing “THE dog” was incongruous with the situation. That is, until I walked outside and saw two people washing the hairless (I think) stiff body of what was unmistakeably a dog.
I must say, that is where I drew the line. As the man crouched by its head raised the machete I turned tail (uh… no pun intended…) and retreated into the house.
Other highlights of the wedding parties included to endless karaoke (read: singing to a live keyboard player without given song lyrics) and some dancing. The karaoke was dreadful for me because a) I’m not much of a public singer—the shower and my empty room are generally my preferred audience, b) I didn’t know the songs they knew, and c) I didn’t even know the songs I knew as I’m basically useless with most songs if I’m not given the lyrics. I sang a shaky (aka shameful) rendition of Amazing Grace (first verse only, twice) but then kind of redeemed myself with a classic Indonesian song I had the lyrics to that I knew from my dad’s lullabies (thanks, Dad!).
I faired slightly better with the dancing. My counterpart and her sister danced the waltz, the chacha, and the jive and were happy to teach me. My counterpart taught me by telling me and showing me the steps and walking me through it. Her sister taught me by dancing with me until I caught on. Needless to say, it was a wild adventure and an interesting outcome. But plenty of fun! (And actually quite a workout).
No doubt, I will be invited to more weddings. Probably I’ll be invited already when I’m half way there. I should really just start carrying around some fancy clothes just in case.